It began in 1982 with just seven drums and a vision to bring Edmonton’s inner city indigenous population back to its roots.
On Saturday, the Ben Calf Robe powwow celebrated its 36th anniversary with thousands of people in attendance.
“I never dreamed back then it would be like it is today. To see it grow like this, where there are thousands of people coming through, it’s just phenomenal. I’m very pleased because we put a lot of hard work into it, a lot of sweat and tears,” said elder Fred Campion, an organizer and spiritual leader at Ben Calf Robe school.
“This powwow allows us to bring a lot of our people back to our cultural gatherings and it helps the children to re-identify and pick up some of the teachings from our elders,” Campion explained. “We have one of the largest populations in Canada in the inner city. I think we’re at about 65,000 to 70,000 indigenous people living in Edmonton. It’s a time for us to keep motivated and keep our focus on our culture.”
The powwow is named after Chief Ben Calf Robe, a Blackfoot elder and residential school survivor. Robe was an advocate for the indigenous community. He spent his lifetime supporting indigenous rights and access to education.
“It’s a very positive experience — a very healing experience.”
Campion helped organize the very first powwow and several more since.
“I feel good that I did something back then that would grow and benefit so many people.”
The powwow is seen as a way for all Edmontonians to embrace and experience the indigenous culture. This year’s event was held at the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre. The day was filled with healing ceremonies, including drumming, singing and dancing.
“We hear the drums and the singing and it allows people to come to a place where they feel comfortable, where they can touch the spirit and reconnect with our ancestors. This is our land, our territory,” Campion said.
Campion said he would like to see the event continue to grow to include other inner city cultures as well.
“Let’s celebrate each other’s cultures in song and dance.”